With adaptive reuse and historical preservation in mind, Peter Schwab brings his love of the past into his everyday work as an architect.
Peter Schwab never tires of learning about the American Revolution. He’s spent decades tracing his family’s lineage to the days of the nation’s founding, which led to him discovering he’s related to an officer who served under George Washington.
That genealogical journey fostered a deep appreciation of history that plays a significant role in Schwab’s career as an Associate Principal at Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects, a firm that specializes in adaptive reuse and historical preservation.
“It’s helped me develop attention to detail and a respect for the quality of the way things were built in the past,” said Schwab, who works at M&D’s Baltimore office. “You can preserve the best features of a building and improve on its guts and the new infrastructure.”
‘Historic Preservation expert’
After graduating from Virginia Tech, Schwab has enjoyed more than 30 years working as an architect, following in his father’s footsteps. He joined Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects almost four years ago and has tackled a slew of challenging projects.
Some of them have been particularly fitting, considering he’s a history buff.
One project involves the President Street Station in Baltimore. Among the country’s first train stations, the building opened in 1850 and was the site of a riot 11 years later, when Southern sympathizers attacked Union troops on their way to Washington from Massachusetts.
Now home to the Baltimore Civil War Museum, the station is listed on the U.S. Register of National Historic Places. Schwab is designing renovations that will preserve the entire building, as well as partially recreate an original train shed – pending approvals and funding for the project.
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Elsewhere, Schwab is working on a $26 million overhaul of Prince George’s Community College’s Lanham Hall. Constructed in the 1970s, the three-story non-descript building will soon have a fresh look that includes bringing in natural light, new materials and vegetative green roofs. Schwab hopes to achieve LEED Gold certification for this transformative project.
“Adaptive reuse makes all the sense in the world to take these quality shells and reinvent them,” he said.
M&D co-founder Frank Dittenhafer II, FAIA, LEED AP, said Schwab is a natural fit for projects that require giving old buildings new uses.
“Peter has the skills and technical knowledge to handle a variety of challenging and complex assignments,” Dittenhafer said. “And just as important as his experience, he has excellent communication skills. Everyone who meets Peter knows he’s easygoing, articulate and thoughtful. He’s easy to work with, and that is incredibly important.”
Award-winning work along the Susquehanna
Schwab also helped Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects tackle a particularly challenging project for the Zimmerman Center for Heritage, which was recently named a visitor contact station for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and last year won a Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Award.
The center wanted to build a waterside pavilion along the Susquehanna River, and Schwab was called in during the construction phase to assist with some of the technical issues – like finding a way to build a foundation that would withstand heavy ice flows.
That project also included a wetlands area, as well as a lengthy ADA-accessible walkway that included educational signage to immerse visitors in the history of the river.
Borrowing from the past
As a history lover, Schwab knows architects borrow from the past in the hopes of improving future structures. He compares it to DNA, saying successful design elements such as columns, arches, gables, bricks and more are carried throughout history.
“With new materials and technologies, we can recreate and reinvent these elements in new and more sustainable solutions that also serve our needs in comfort,” he said.
Sustainability is important to Schwab. He knows that creating new structures means taking more materials from the Earth.
Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects’ work with adaptive reuse means some existing buildings don’t have to come down, which helps cities retain eclectic looks – as well as buildings that may be cost-prohibitive to build in today’s economy.
“We’re in a great place now as far as architecture is concerned because we have the past to learn from,” Schwab said. “We’re improving buildings, and I think we’re doing some really exciting work at Murphy & Dittenhafer.”